Timber I’ve brought down too many trees since I’ve met you. Dug too many holes, and the pads of my fingers are mapped with earth and regret. Yet here I am, in this wanting-to-be-wild front yard, still standing, and awaiting your instruction. You perch precariously upon top ladder rung to bind the old Pine’s heart. I remain below, grasping rope and fealty between tentative palms, as you loop the coarse weave noose around her trunk. Now she is ready to fell. Aloft, oblivious, with her abiding solid stance, breathing into the sharp blue day as she’s done for decades. Chainsaw jolts into its unrepentant roar and I shoot shudders into thick, hot air. “Now! Pull! Pull harder!” you scream. And your expression, even at this distance, wonders why I’m so weak, why I must be told, how I would cope without you. I bid biceps and thighs to hold as I lean back, grinding heels into the grass, and heave into my resolve. Then she breaks. With final splintering crack, groan of surrender, she crashes metres before my feet in a cloud of malty dust and woodchips. You fist pump and holler. “Alleluia!! We took her down!” I nod vaguely, but consider god had nothing to do with this. Save your praise for miracles, like drought-breaking rain or regrowth through the ashes. “Look at that! Told you, didn’t I? A much cleaner view now, see? We’ll finish her off with a few more cuts and then we can start out the back.” You climb down, wiping sweat and tree flesh from your face. Exultant with conquest, you peruse the subjugation of your land. “King of the trees!” you grin. Except, you can’t reign over the dead and decaying. In ghost tales, maybe, but you’re never really king of the vanquished. Roots and seeds always remain. Sprouts of sedition everywhere. And we are not ghosts, certainly not regal, but tired and thirsty mortals, labouring in a hot suburban garden. * You have such plans. Engineered a path to cull and cultivate, burn, and build. I know, with you, I am fortified. Moats and walls, bricks, and locks. Sheds stored with every efficiency, every tool. Every future question considered, every fallow sigh ignored. But, standing beside the fallen trunk, crushed plants, skinned bark, I am hollowed. Later, you dismember the body and I feed the small branches through the mulcher, twig by stick. Branch by breath. Watching, through the sad blue tinge of safety goggles, as the machine rumbles and grunts; ingesting limbs, spindly fingers that quiver in their final snapping outstretched plea. “To cultivate, you have to clear first and create a rich foundation,” you scream above the chainsaw growl. Yes, I nod again, while the woody scent of tree spirit tickles my nostrils. I shift my feet from busted organs now splattered across the lawn, spilling out desperate wood borers trying to escape the light. And, it’s not that I dispute your logic. The garden will flourish to a trained and polished perfection. And yes, it certainly improves the view, disposes of the redundant, the imperfect, and makes way for new possibilities. “It was rotting from the inside,” you shout. Yes. And still it stood. Somehow survived. Like all those scurrying beetles, slimy grubs inside my own heart. Boring, bite by bite, deed by deed into the crumbling chambers of whatever I used to be. Husked in brittle smiles, compliant gestures, to hold the whistling empty spaces in. * I’ve sat so many dusks upon the back cement step, picking at dirt beneath fingernails, taking a final swig, after toiling in the garden of your plans. Droning of cicadas, scent of green and brown wreathed about my head as I swat mosquitos from sticky forearms, and watch earth breathe. It breathes without us. Despite us. Weeds flourish, spider webs lace over branches, beetles sift through leaf litter, and possums leave pellets of possession. Until we take up prongs and blades to plunder through another day. “We’ll poison the stump tomorrow,” you plot, calling out from behind the shower screen. And now unease thickens to a tight wad in my throat. Words of acquisition and destruction tossed about with fervour, mentioned in a soft smile at the restaurant, soothed into my skin as you caress my fingers at the table, spluttered loudly at a party as you’re back slapping with friends discussing weekend renovations and plans. I scrub and soap the stain from my hands, but these palms are marked with malice. Cuticles coarse and fingertips callusing to a tougher, less receptive membrane. Sometimes in my dreams, I sprout vines, thick tendrilled stems from the soft flesh of my calves and upper arms. They weave around my neck, grow tight and strong, and when I try to weed free, I wake, wailing with an unnamed dread. But you are always there to hold me, tell me we are builders, not destroyers. Our little kingdom, for the time I remain as queen, is a fertile, verdant paradise for our chosen subjects. “Off with their heads,” I mutter to the creepers in my dreams. But, even in shadows of sleep, I lose conviction, purpose to prune. Let there be wild.
-- Kate Maxwell has been published and awarded in many Australian and International literary magazines. Her first poetry anthology Never Good at Maths was published in 2021, and her second anthology will be forthcoming in 2023. Kate’s interests include film, wine, and sleeping.